April 27, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 16

current issue
archive / search

    Recycle this newspaper!

    . . . and help the University save thousands of trees and $21,000 this year

    By 1 p.m. every Friday, Tony Sanny is surrounded by garbage -- and loving it. In his own way he is saving the planet, one stop at a time. Sanny handles what he calls the "mechanics of recycling," the dirty work that takes place after people toss their bottles, cans and newspapers in the color-coded bags and recycling containers.

    Each week Sanny drives the five-ton, 11-foot-tall UCRecycle truck and hauls bottles, newspapers and cardboard from sites around campus to the UCRecycle transfer site near 60th and Blackstone. A normal route for Sanny, a College fourth-year concentrating in biology, starts with inspecting the truck, which is equipped with inside storage compartments for extra bags, 30-gallon blue Rubbermaid containers and 55-gallon metal drums. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and with his hair tied back in a ponytail, Sanny looks more like a road manager for a rock group than someone seeking a career in environmental policy. He's serious, however, about the importance of what he does.

    "It's great to see how well the campus has responded to recycling," Sanny said. "I've also come to appreciate the work that goes into recycling. Plus, I like doing my part to control waste."

    The first pickup stop is Regenstein Library to remove six containers, all overflowing with glass bottles and aluminum cans. Next, the truck pulls up to the Laboratory Schools to pick up three lime-green bags of newspaper.

    From the Laboratory Schools, Sanny heads to the loading dock behind the Law School cafeteria to remove cardboard boxes piled to the ceiling. Then it's back across the Midway to the loading area behind the University Bookstore to drop the cardboard near the cardboard baler, which compresses the boxes into manageable bundles ready to be hauled. The final stop of the day is the UCRecycle transfer site at 6018 S. Blackstone Ave. Here the bottles are separated by color (clear, green and brown) and the newspapers are loaded into 30-cubic-yard trash containers.

    The UCRecycle facility resembles a recycling graveyard, with large containers filled with bottles, newspapers and other materials.

    "This is the place most people don't get to see and don't even think of after they toss used paper in their recycle boxes," Sanny said.

    It's 2:30 p.m., and Sanny is ahead of schedule and has time to park the truck and grab a sandwich before rushing to class. Before he goes, Sanny grabs two worn binders from one of the trash bins. "It's important that materials get maximized before they're simply discarded," he said. "I can still use these for class."

    Tons to recycle

    Sanny's work is a small part of the total recycling efforts administered through UCRecycle since 1988. The office collects and recycles materials generated by the various departments around campus. James Cahillane, UCRecycle Coordinator, has led the University recycling program since 1991 and provides education and training programs for the campus community about responsible resource use, including recycling and ways of reducing consumption of resources. In addition, UCRecycle ensures that the University complies with state and federal recycling laws.

    The program, which in 1990 was named Best Institutional Recycling Program by the Illinois Recycling Association, currently collects or coordinates collections of materials for recycling in nearly 150 buildings across campus -- 76 administrative and academic buildings, 58 University-owned apartment buildings and 14 residence halls, including International House. The program collects general office paper, cardboard, newspaper, computer printouts, aluminum and bimetal cans, glass bottles and plastics.

    Approximately 56 tons of materials are collected each month -- between 20 and 30 tons of office paper, 10 to 15 tons of newspaper, 10 tons of cardboard, five tons of glass, one and a half tons of cans and 88 pounds of plastics.

    "Since 1988, we have saved close to 40,000 trees, or 50 acres of forest," Cahillane said.

    An estimated 17 percent of the University's core waste that would otherwise be deposited in local landfills is now collected and recycled, according to a UCRecycle report. Since the program's inception, a total of 2,550 tons of recyclable materials have been collected by UCRecycle.

    Roots run deep

    Like most of his six-person staff, Cahillane has deep-rooted convictions about the importance of recycling. At lunch he takes his coffee mug instead of using paper cups, he is careful not to take paper plates or extra napkins if he doesn't really need them, and he is quick to take a can out of the trash and place it in a proper recycling container.

    Cahillane grew up environmentally conscious. His father owned a waste-disposal and recycling company in Massachusetts, where Cahillane learned to understand the value of recycling. He started a student recycling program at Columbia College and worked on local Earth Day efforts in 1990. That same year, after organizing a conference for student environmentalists in Champaign, Ill., that drew 7,000 participants, he returned to Chicago as UCRecycle Coordinator.

    "Recycling is simply a wise use of resources. What we do on campus has specific economic, environmental and social benefits," Cahillane said. "Our program has generated not only an awareness of recycling, but also revenue from the materials we collect and sell."

    Those economic incentives have recently surged for UCRecycle. According to Cahillane, UCRecycle currently gets paid $70 to $100 per ton by companies seeking recycled materials. It would cost the University roughly $50 per ton to have the same materials dumped in landfills.

    "Right now the markets are good, and we're making a profit. There's an uninformed perception out there that it costs more to recycle than to just throw stuff away. It's really a question of having an integrated waste-management system that includes reducing the amount of waste you produce and recycling the materials you use," Cahillane said.

    For the 1993-94 fiscal year, UCRecycle earned $14,000 for the sale of recyclable materials and saved other campus departments $6,500 as a result of collecting and reselling. The projected revenue for this fiscal year is $18,000, with a projected savings of $21,000.

    Cahillane predicts the prices for recycled materials will remain strong as the U.S. economy stabilizes or improves. In just two years, the price of post-consumer paper (paper that has been used by individuals as opposed to clippings from paper mills or printers' waste that is also recycled) has risen from $20 per ton to $105 per ton.

    "Our profits are put directly back into the program for education and training activities, so we are able to continue to get the word out about what we do," Cahillane said.

    Getting the word out

    Last fall, all incoming College students were provided with reusable canvas bags, compliments of the Hyde Park Co-op supermarket, with information about University recycling printed on them. This will continue next year with donations from area businesses and will include incoming graduate students as well.

    UCRecycle also printed the "UCRecycle Campus Recycling Guidelines: What to Recycle & Where to Recycle It" posters. These are located above all recycling bags and were distributed to offices for additional posting. A training video has been produced for faculty and staff orientation, and Cahillane, by request, gives workshops to residence halls, campus organizations and administrative offices on how to recycle.

    For the majority of the campus community, recycling begins with a desk-side recycling box, or with containers seen in the coffee shops for bottles and cans. To Cahillane that's a great start, but only the beginning of what can be done.

    "Hopefully, having the recycling boxes and stations nearby not only makes people feel good about recycling but gets them to think about how they consume materials. The next step is to consider other energy-saving activities like driving less, using more efficient lighting, planting tress or getting involved in community environmental activities," Cahillane said. "The planet will be here, but if we are not careful, we will only be harming ourselves."

    For more information on University recycling efforts, or to schedule a UCRecycle training session for your office or organization, contact James Cahillane in Administration 607, by phone at 702-3415, or via e-mail at j-cahillane@uchicago.edu.

    -- Charles Whitt